I celebrated this seventy-degree, sun-filled Friday by taking the kids into Boston at noontime. Husband’s uncle, a pilot, had an extended layover and was meeting my dearest for lunch, and I thought a rare familial visit on a rare spectacular March day was the perfect excuse to flee the ‘burbs for a few hours. We met in the quintessential Boston spot – on the bridge over the duck pond in the Public Garden, not wearing jackets and enjoying the smell of sunshine in the air. Despite the street performers and college students in their shorts and flip-flops, the duck pond itself reminded us that this softer season is really just beginning – it’s empty (which seems somewhat miraculous, since some houses I know had more water in them this week than the pond does) and Mr. and Mrs. Mallard were flapping about in a few puddles of mucky water. But, regardless of the fact that the City of Boston hasn’t refilled its landmark quite yet, it was good to note: nothing was frozen. Birds were rooting out seeds and worms. College kids were in flip-flops. Folks, I think we have turned the corner.
Of course, a few balmy days and the first crocuses don’t fast-forward us to the sweet, juicy delights of summer. We still need some tricks up our sleeves to tide us over until we can eat those vine-fresh tomatoes or berries. And so I offer you one of my favorite ways to taste summer without having to leave the country … tomatoes, slow roasted in some olive oil. It’s an amazing way to turn those store-bought, pallid paste tomatoes into something worth eating, and can even be applied to a good-quality can of whole,peeled tomatoes (I prefer anything marked as coming from San Marzano for this recipe.) A few seasonings to concentrate and round out the flavors, a few hours in a low oven, and you’ve got luscious, flavorful, tender tomatoes perfect for an antipasto platter, sandwiches, salads, and anything else you care to try them in. I’d use these over sun-dried tomatoes any day, because they still taste as one expects a tomato to taste.
Also, this is a recipe that I firmly believe belongs to out-of-season tomatoes … fresh ones would be far too juicy to concentrate so well, and who wants to do much more than sprinkle some salt on one of summer’s finer gems? So, while we wait for the ponds to fill and farm stands to open, enjoy this preview of summer flavor.
Slow-Roasted Tomatoes in Oil
(inspired by Thomas Keller, who would likely deny that based on my theory that you can use canned tomatoes.)
12 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise, cores and seeds removed*
4 tablespoons garlic oil**
1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 – 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.
Arrange the tomatoes on a sheet pan, cut sides up, in a single layer. Drizzle with the garlic oil and vinegar. Sprinkle the sugar, salt and pepper over the tomatoes. Roast for 2 to 3 hours, until the tomatoes are concentrated and beginning to caramelize. Serve warm or at room temperature.
* If you choose to use the canned tomatoes, pat them dry, halve them lengthwise, and remove the seeds. Also, be sure to taste them for salt, and adjust your seasonings accordingly.
** For garlic oil, crush 2 cloves of garlic and place them in a small pan with 1/3 cup of good olive oil. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until garlic is golden brown. Remove the cloves of garlic and use the oil. If you choose not to make your own garlic oil, you can simply use olive oil and then sprinkle a clove or two of minced garlic over the tomatoes along with the salt, pepper and sugar.